Our MCC Central States (CS) IVEPers gathered in Denver, Colorado, for their first retreat in December. We went snow tubing in Fraser, walked around downtown Denver and shared meals from various cultures. Since this was the first retreat I’ve led with IVEP, I felt a strong responsibility to provide the IVEPers with new and unique experiences. The first few months of being in a foreign country can be challenging for anyone, especially for those who are simultaneously navigating new full-time volunteer jobs. I spent many days going over the itineraries and agendas and trying to predict the needs of each IVEPer. What I realized throughout the weekend was the thing they most wanted was fellowship.
All of the CS IVEPers come from warm climates, so when we got to the mountains, everyone was a bit uncomfortable from the cold and even more so nervous about the prospect of going down a snowy hill in a tube. As you can imagine, the IVEPer who forgot to bring her boots immediately felt theconsequences. So, I said to them, “You only have to go down the hill once, and then you can sit by the fire if you want to.” Tubing is essentially sledding, but you go down a large hill in a tire-like tube, so the goal was to expose them to this common cultural experience for Coloradans.
Well, not only did each IVEPer go down the hill, but they also decided to drag a tube with the bootless- IVEPer up to the lift so they could all go down together. Seeing them support and encourage each other through this experience was a beautiful example of what true fellowship looks like. And, sure enough, once they had gone down the hill one time, they couldn’t wait to do it again.
Spending time with the IVEPers reminded me of the Bible story about Mary and Martha. When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, Martha found herself busy with the details and preparations while Mary was seated at Jesus’ feet, lost in his company. Mary’s priority was to fellowship and spend time with Jesus. Their story teaches us to focus on what matters, which is our relationship with God and with one another.
In an IVEP year, there are many things we plan and prepare for, but whether it be in the context of host relationships, work relationships or peer relationships on a retreat, it is the fellowship between people that is most enriching. Just as these IVEPers carried one another through their fears and the newness of their experiences, when we give one another the gift of presence and fellowship, we gain a greater understanding of peacebuilding, compassion, and community.
Header photo caption: From L to R: Emili Krinski (Brazil), Princess Tshuma (Zimbabwe), Chilufya Chileshe (Malawi), Mahlet Mamo and Naomi Kwanza (Tanzania) going on tubing in Denver, Colorado. Photo/Emili Krinski